Television stars Julia Bradbury and Michaela Strachan have issued a call for action to protect whales, dolphins and other marine species from up to 13m tonnes of plastic that they say leak into our seas every year thanks to litter from single-use water bottles and other sources.
The amount of plastic waste equates to more than the combined weight of every single living blue whale and equal to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every single foot of the world’s coastline. This number is set to double to 10 bags full by 2025.
The #NotWhaleFood campaign, which is being led by the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and BRITA UK and supported by stars including former Countryfile presenter Bradbury and Springwatch’s Strachan, also says 56% of all whale and dolphin species in the world have been recorded eating plastic, often with deadly consequences.
Julia Bradbury – “With 80% of the plastic in the sea originating in litter from urban areas, this is something we all have a responsibility to act on.”
The project, which includes a dedicated microsite bringing together research into the dangers of plastic waste from bottles, bottletops and plastic food packaging to marine life, along with practical actions to inspire people to make positive changes, will be launched this morning with an “urban beach clean” in Parliament Square.
Research by WDC’s dedicated #NotWhaleFood team has found that estimates suggest up to 80% of the plastic in the seas comes from litter originally dropped in our towns and cities, with our reliance on single-use plastic bottles a key contributor to this problem.
Plastic bottles can take 450 years to break down – although some estimates put this figure at 1,000 years – meaning they live more than twice as long as a Bowhead Whale, one of the planet’s longest living creatures.
Britons use 7.7bn single-use plastic water bottles a year but recycle only a limited number, according to data from the Marine Conservation Society, with many more finding their way into the sea, where they deteriorate into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic that are often toxic and easily eaten by fish and other marine species.
The #NotWhaleFood campaign also draws attention to the fact that:
- There are an estimated 5.25tr pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, with more added daily
- A single 1L bottle could break down into enough small fragments to put one on every mile of the world’s beaches
- An estimated 8,300m metric tons of plastics have been produced as of mid-2017 – equivalent to the weight of more than 46m blue whales
- Over the last 30 years, more than 20m plastic bottle caps and lids were found during global beach cleaning activities.
WDC’s research shows that at least 557 different marine species are known to have suffered from entanglement and ingestion of plastic litter including dolphins, whales, sea lions and birds.
The campaign points to rising numbers of incidents of whales and dolphins dying as a result, including a Minke whale who washed up on the Normandy coast with 800kg of plastic waste in its stomach, and a Cuvier’s beaked whale in Norway who died after ingesting 30 single use plastic bags.
A recent study has also shown that it’s not just whales and dolphins who are eating plastic, but that people who regularly eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic each year, according to Ghent University in Belgium.
Michaela Strachan – “We don’t need to drop litter and we don’t need to use so much plastic. As this campaign makes clear, plastic is not food for whales or any other marine species.”
Julia Bradbury, WDC patron, TV broadcaster, presenter and co-founder of online resource The Outdoor Guide, said: “The volume of plastic in our seas and the impact it has on beloved species such as whales and dolphins is one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time and something that we should all be profoundly concerned about.
“With 80% of the plastic in the sea originating in litter from urban areas, this is something we all have a responsibility to act on. From carrying reusable water bottles to cutting down our usage of plastic bags, there are so many small changes we can make to have a positive impact. We can’t afford to delay.’
Michaela Strachan WDC patron, said: “It’s heartbreaking to see pictures of whales and dolphins washing up on shores around the world because of the amount of plastic they have ingested – yet this is a totally avoidable problem. We don’t need to drop litter and we don’t need to use so much plastic. As this campaign makes clear, plastic is not food for whales or any other marine species.”